Butter is one of the most important ingredients in my kitchen. I use it in baking and cooking, as well as to top everything from toast to steak. You know it's delicious, but do you know the difference between salted butter and unsalted butter?
Salted vs. Unsalted Butter: What's the difference?
When you go to the store, you'll see two main types of butter: salted butter and unsalted butter.
Salted butter has a small quantity of salt added to it. Salt enhances the natural flavor of the butter, but it also acts as a natural preservative and that's the reason salt was historically added to butter in the first place.
Unsalted butter, also known as "sweet butter" or "sweet cream butter," is butter that has no salt added to it after churning. It has the slightly sweet flavor — hence the name — of the cream used to make it.
Which butter should I use?
By now, you're probably wondering which type of butter you should use, and if it will make a difference in your recipe. After all, don't most recipes contain salt?
Unsalted butter is the preferred butter for baking and cooking.
This is because it is extremely difficult to gauge the amount of salt that has been added to salted butter, and there is a possibility that the additional salt could turn your perfectly balanced recipe into one that is just too salty. Unsalted butter ensures that you exactly how much salt will be in your finished dish.
However, in most recipes, you won't notice the difference.
The general rule of thumb is that a ½ cup of salted butter contains about ¼ teaspoon of additional salt. So in most recipes — a batch of chocolate chip cookies, for example — you're not going to notice the difference between cookies made with salted butter and cookies made with unsalted.
But in some recipes, the extra salt can make a big difference.
For a bread recipe where the rise is partly controlled by the amount of salt in your dough, or for someone who is sensitive to sodium or watching their intake, that small amount of salt actually can make a difference.
What if I only have salted butter?
If you only have salted butter on hand to use in your baking and cooking, simply reduce the amount of salt in your recipe by ¼ teaspoon for ½ cup of butter you are using. This will make up for the added salt, so you'll still end up with a balanced recipe in the end.
So, when should I use salted butter?
A better use for salted butter is as a spread or a topping for finished dishes. It's even better than unsalted butter for spreading on rolls, breads, steaks and other finished foods, as a little bit of extra salt will highlight the dairy sweetness of the butter against the food that you put it on!
Since most of the butter that I use goes into baked goods, I tend to only keep unsalted butter in my kitchen. When I am in need of salted butter, I simply add a pinch of sea salt to softened unsalted butter and stir it in with a knife. I love the added texture of sea salt, plus a little bit of it can go a long way toward flavoring your butter.